An agreement honored

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PLUMMER, Idaho – A ceremony on the shore of Coeur d’Alene Lake officially transferred ownership of the Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes to the Coeur d’Alene Tribe and the state of Idaho from the Union Pacific Railroad. That in itself is newsworthy; but the history surrounding the tribe, the Union Pacific Railroad and the U.S. government makes the transfer historic.

The event started with a prayer offered by Coeur d’Alene elder Felix Aripa and a drum ceremony. Aripa went on to explain the history he learned as a young man from his elders that led to this day.

He said many tribal members in 1888 were opposed to allowing the rail line to be built across reservation lands because they knew it would bring more people to the area. They later agreed with the provision that it be more of a loan and if the time ever came when the railroad wasn’t needed, it would be returned to the tribe. The last train used the rail line 16 years ago; it subsequently has been developed into a nonmotorized trail for bicyclists and hikers and named “the Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes.”

Those in attendance included representatives from many levels of government, many state and federal agencies, the Union Pacific Railroad and a number of tribal employees. Tribal Chairman Chief Allen thanked everyone for coming. “We’ve always been visionaries,” he said of the tribe. “That’s one thing that set us apart. We’ve always gone above and beyond the call of duty, be it with agreements, be it with war time signups: doing our part. Although we’re Native people, we’re also Idahoans; we’re citizens of the United States. That’s something we take pride in.

“We’re happy to acknowledge not only the ownership [of the trail] but also we loaned it out and we’re ready to go on to the next part of loaning it out again – this 73-mile track of land for everybody to use. It’s something the tribe has always been happy to do. We like to share our wealth.

“The trail is a testament to the Union Pacific, the tribe and the state of Idaho to come together so the public can use it. So many times in this country we see the people with more money and signs are put up. This is something everybody can use. That’s something the tribe is really proud of, that it’s open to the public. We really like that.”

Tribal attorney Howard Funke talked at some length of the history of the Coeur d’Alene Tribe and the U.S. government. The tribe once had dominion over lands reaching into Washington, across Idaho and into Montana. In 1867, the U.S. decided to strike boundaries for the reservation without even telling the tribe and only included a very small portion of Coeur d’Alene Lake.

“The tribe refused to accept that reservation,” he said. “For the only time I’m aware of in the history of the United States, the tribe convinced the U.S. to change the boundaries of their reservation.”

The tribe wanted the lake and rivers, as it was the center of their homeland. The government redrew the boundary to include virtually all of the lake and portions of the two rivers.

In 1887 the tribe agreed to cede its aboriginal territory in exchange for this reservation. The U.S. and Congress promised the tribe in writing, through legislation, that this land would be a permanent home for the Coeur d’Alene Tribe and that no land would ever be taken without their consent.

Just a year later, the railroad came in and wanted a right of way through the reservation. After much discussion, as Aripa has said, the tribe agreed to the railroad with the provision it be returned to the tribe if it ceased to be used for railroad purposes.

Numerous other events have altered the reservation over the past 100 years, many without any input from the tribe. Finally, this transfer of land back to the tribe from the Union Pacific Railroad has come to fruition, 120 years after the agreement was made to return the land to the tribe if the railroad no longer used it.

The ceremony ended with a declaration of partnership that said, in part, “Whereas the Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes is a 73-mile nonmotorized trail open to the public for their recreational enjoyment and emotional well-being, now therefore the Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes is officially transferred from the Union Pacific Railroad to the Coeur d’Alene Tribe and the state of Idaho for the enjoyment of all in perpetuity.”

The tribe will own the 15 miles within the reservation, while the balance will be owned by the state. The entire route will be managed together in partnership.